So… there were some delays since my last Don Rosa in Review came out! I’m sorry about that. You can thank Dr. GeoX for inspiring me to put out this little birthday present to myself. I had waited for two Don Rosa books to come out to allow me to better discuss the material in relationship to his development as an artist, one being the Fantagraphics release, the other being the third volume of the Don Rosa Classics. I’m not holding my breath on that last one coming out any time soon, more’s the pity, but I do have the Fantagraphics releases. With them, I finally, finally have an opportunity to go through Don Rosa’s Duck stories the way I had intended!
Well. Except for one. Return to Duckburg Place was written in 1970 with Ray Foushee, who also collaborated on ‘a handful of [Pertwillaby Papers] episodes’, and is technically the first Disney Duck comic Rosa ever worked on. I say technically because it was produced as an underground comic, starts with Huey Dewey and Louie smoking pot, and actually gets more messed up from there. While this comic was published in European territories as part of various Don Rosa collections, the more uptight Disney of America wouldn’t allow publication of this story in the Don Rosa Library. I was fortunate enough to find a copy from an acquaintance to work with for this column. Funny what happens when Disney tells him not to publish things he worked on that fans want to read: somehow, it gets out there anyway.
This is one of only three Duck comics he did in black and white, all of which were unofficial productions. This is why you see Zip-A-Tone on most of the characters, later used to remarkable effect on The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky. It is also easily the darkest thing he’s ever done, outdoing even his “Casper the Dead Baby” jokes made during conventions and interviews.
I really, really hope he’s joking. It makes sense the more you think about it, just look at that head… but anyway. I couldn’t think of a better way to return to Don Rosa in Review than this, with Return to Duckburg Place.
Summary: Don Rosa holds nothing back in a dark, satirical, amateur production that slams the Disney Duck world and its characters, and I laugh hysterically at the thought of this same guy being most well known for his heart wrenching, brilliant stories that thrive on extreme pathos. Everyone has a dark side, and this is definitely his.
The story begins with the now college-aged HDL in their dorm room, ranting about the evils of capitalism screwing over the little guy who makes it all possible (and unintentionally foreshadowing his exit from comics, I noticed – an appropriate but disturbing bookend). They rant about their various Barksian adventures, as they and Rosa are wont to do, and fun is had by showing their Junior Woodchucks handbook is used to pay tuition by selling its secrets to NASA, while also serving as their college textbooks. Frankly, I don’t blame them on that last one, 45 years later and the textbook system is still as corrupt a system as ever. The triplets’ plan, with typical college logic, is to blow up Scrooge’s money bin to help redistribute the wealth.
Meanwhile, Donald’s decided to take a more direct approach to dealing with Scrooge’s continued miserly nature – he plans to murder Scrooge in cold blood and redistribute the wealth to him, himself, and he. Some pretty good jokes are thrown in there as Scrooge avoids the assassinations with appropriate comic timing, and Donald is repeatedly blown up or otherwise cartoonishly injured by those very attempts. It’s structured more like a Warner Brothers Looney Tunes than any of his other work, but without sight gags in those style. Very fitting considering – well, we’ll get to that in a minute. Interspersed between the two plots are the fates of other Disney comics characters. The fates of Grandma Duck and Gladstone are particularly dark, though Goofy and Chief O’Hara make surprising cameos. Amusingly, he kills Mickey off screen rather than draw him, which is my favorite pot-shot of all.
HDL’s plan, which has taken place in their University dorm, collides with Donald’s murderous efforts by sending a miniaturized bomb capable of blowing up the Money Bin, which Donald triggers during his coin polishing (more of an Italian Disney habit, but we do see Donald doing this again in The Money Pit).
Scrooge is, of course, out of the Money Bin when it explodes, and the coins fall in a deluge on the city that probably caused more property damage and death than the Money Bin could pay for, though that’s my inference based on the tone rather than what we see on screen. During the triplets celebration, Dean Gyro Gearloose storms in and uses the bug he planted in the room to show he caught them… after the fact, rather than before, which is either a plot hole or a shot at Gyro missing the obvious solution in favor of something silly. That bug is, in fact, Silly Symphonies character Bucky Bug, because why not? Further cameos are made by the Three Little Pigs, a Beagle Boy, and the true long lost father of Huey, Dewey and Louie.
We get our homage to Only a Poor Old Man, and for a moment, Donald considers whether it’s worth kicking Scrooge when he’s down. This is his moment. This is what he is in the dark, like Scrooge with the opal all those years ago in Australia.
What we learn from this is that if Donald had been with him in that cavern, I’m pretty sure he would have beaten him with the opal and sold it to live on his own private island. And at the bottom of the last page, there’s a dedication to the works of Carl Barks and the Walt Disney Corporation.
Now that’s funny.
This story is dark fun, nine pages that almost make you wonder if Rosa was hit by a personality altering ray by the time he wrote Son of the Sun. For what it is, it’s well executed, though I think it might have been better to extended it a page or two to give the sight gags room to breathe without dialogue cluttering the panels so much. That may just be my wanting to see more of the twisted side he seems to have poured in to this comic, like a madman’s Kolinahr.
The only actual stumbling point is the art, which is fairly crude and lacks the detail he would become famous for. But his style is there, formative though it is, and that works well enough. I’ve never read MAD Magazine, but I suspect that this gives you a glimpse in to the future of a Rosa who literally followed in the footsteps of Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder, rather than just taking a great deal of inspiration from them. This was a treat to read, and I hope by the final volume of the Don Rosa Library Disney reconsiders its stance on an American publication. The thing’s already all over the internet.
This is not the end of Don Rosa in Review, though I sure don’t expect a hiatus quite like that again without a coma involved. I’ll be shooting for updates every other week for his work from now on, starting with Last Sled to Dawson. And with all there is to talk about in the story where Rosa really finds his feet, it’s going to be a whopper.